The cast with director Manahan, here beside a young Maricel Soriano. Also in this photo: Chichay, Gary Lising, Herbert and Hero Bautista, and productions assistant Rocky Ardena (behind bag)..
Culture Spotlight

We found a trunkful of pictures of 'Kaluskos Musmos,' the kiddie gag show of our youth

For kids who grew up during the Marcos years, there was Mazinger Z but also there was the Saturday evening habit: the educational gag show that starred a bunch of precocious kids. Imee produced it. Mr. M directed. The writers were comedy legends. It starred a young Maricel Soriano and a future QC mayor. Despite being a kiddie show, it had crossover appeal and beat a Superstar and the PBA in the ratings.
Gay Ace Domingo | Jun 08 2019

A photograph of the Kaluskos Musmos cast posted by writer Tats Manahan on Facebook earlier this year sparked major nostalgia for us who grew up watching the show. Immediately, we commissioned a story to be written. But who would have thought Tats, the only woman in the show's writer's pool, now a heritage conservation champion, would have more pictures in her baul and would share the photos with us? YouTube may not have blessed us with video clips from the show--yet, but may these pictures and story bring back some laughs.

 

In the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, one of the most popular programs on Philippine television was not a soap opera about infidelity, or a news magazine that featured trending personalities, or a game show that gave away cash prizes. Back then what kept audiences glued to the screen every Saturday night was an entertainment-educational program for kids.

Kaluskos Musmos was a show aired on the defunct RPN 9 produced by Kabataang Barangay, a national youth council headed by Imee Marcos, daughter of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, former Philippine president.

The show starred a young Maricel Soriano and future Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista together with other child actors such as Maila Gumila, Siegfried Garcia (son of actress Marissa Delgado), Sharon Manabat (Rio Locsin’s sister/crutch in Manila By Night) and Jayboy Samson. Also in the cast were comedians Chichay, Gary Lising and Bert “Tawa” Marcelo.

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Carrying Gary Lising who was part of the cast and also the writing pool.

One of the most notable castmembers was Dranreb Belleza, a very popular child star at that time. Prior to being in the show, the kid Dranreb was already being billed among the day’s top box-office draws like Fernando Poe Jr. who starred with Reb in Anak ng Araw and the period movie Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon? The boy was a grade school student at La Salle Greenhills when his mother, character actress Divina Valencia, got word about the offer for Reb to star in Kaluskos Musmos.

“One day, my mom was giving me a bath and she asked me, ‘Do you want to have a show with other child actors?’” recalls Dranreb. “I said, ‘Okay.’ I never had a show with other child actors.”

Lising with Reb Belleza and another cast member.

 

Top brass writing pool

Behind Kaluskos Musmos was an eminent team of creatives.

The U.S.-educated Johnny Manahan (who would become ABS-CBN Star Magic’s boss) was the director. Under him was a group of writers coming from various backgrounds and affiliations: advertising executive Rico Flores; cartoonist Nonoy Marcelo, creator of the Ikabod comic strip; illustrator and editorial cartoonist Larry Alcala who was famous for his “Slice of Life” magazine cartoon series; Ading Fernando, the man behind the long-running sitcom John En Marsha; Gary Lising who was also a cast member; and Tats Rejante who eventually married Johnny.

Manahan with Lising and guest Sandy Andolong (rightmost). Behind them, Dyords Javier.

“They were older writers in their 50s,” Tats Rejante Manahan, now a heritage conservation advocate, says of her fellow writers. “They were all guys. I was the only girl.” Although she was the lone female and the youngest, Manahan felt right at home with the rest of the group. She had been a professional TV writer since her college days, and had also gained work experience in the field of advertising.

According to Manahan, Kaluskos Musmos was, at that time, one of the few locally produced shows that had a writing pool. “If not the only one,” she muses.

 

Those little rascals

Manahan does not recall how she and Johnny were hired to create and manage the TV program. “Somebody approached us… I really don’t know… We were told that Imee wanted a children’s show; it had to be educational and it had to be with values.”

Our Gang, (later known as The Little Rascals), a US comedy show that had kids as the main cast, was the inspiration for Kaluskos Musmos. “It was composed of children with different personalities… It was Johnny who brought that up,” Tats recalls.

Christopher de Leon gets his turn to crack jokes with the kids.

The diversity of the people in the writing pool proved to be helpful in coming up with the different characters in Kaluskos Musmos. “The characters were profiled from the start but they also developed as we went along. The key was to have a good composition, to get the interaction and see how the dynamics of the (different) characters worked.”

That was how Herbert became the scrawny Voltaire Samson, Maricel the spunky Jacqueline Pusit, Maila the clueless Mercedes de Brazo, Sharon the tomboyish Ramona Salabat. And Dranreb, of course, was the bratty Andres Bukid.

Kaluskos Musmos presented lessons about history and society in an entertaining and comedic fashion. “As far as I knew, we were just out to do an intelligent children’s show,” says Tats.

The kids in Filipiniana with Estrella Kuenzler and Chichay.

 

"Nasa delivery 'yan"

As such, the creative team had to be very meticulous during pre-production.  Content was always thoroughly discussed by the group and writers took turns scripting the weekly episodes.

But perhaps the best thing about the team’s process was the dialogue reading among the writers. Even before taping with the actors, the writers were able to test punch lines among themselves and make the necessary adjustments in the script or in the direction. Manahan explains, “Let’s say a joke doesn’t work. Mang Ading would say, ‘Nasa delivery ‘yan.’… For him, it was about the ‘attack’ and timing.”

 
A wartime gag.

To get the team’s desired result, the cast kept to the script during actual taping. Says Tats, “The kids would ad lib every now and then but they still stuck to the structure of the script. The punch lines were timed. If they get to hit the punch line, the script really flowed.”

The care in crafting the gags was evident and everyone was ecstatic when a joke lands. “The writing pool, the creative team was very energized,” recalls Tats. “We were on the same wavelength… and so were the kids because they delivered as we expected and beyond.”

Manahan directs Bert "Tawa" Marcelo and guest Amy Austria.

The Saturday habit

Without a doubt, Kaluskos Musmos captured the public’s imagination. At the height of its popularity, it was said to have eclipsed the PBA games and Nora Aunor’s weekly variety show Superstar in terms of ratings. “That was our claim to fame,” says Tats. “In fact, I had one nephew who followed the show; he would quote from the script,” she adds.

“We were number one every Saturday, 7 pm on Channel 9,” Belleza confirms.

The cast became famous. “We were on the covers of TV Times and Mr. & Ms.,” says the former child star, citing the most popular weekly magazines of the 80s.

Since the show was produced by Kabataang Barangay, the young cast members were enlisted to appear at functions in Malacañang, such as birthday celebrations of President Marcos, and other government-related activities like the opening of the Philippine High School for the Arts in Mt. Makiling, Laguna. “We, the cast, did more outside of ‘Kaluskos Musmos,’” says Belleza. “We were treated special.” He remembers traveling with his fellow child actors to events on a bus escorted by motorcycle-riding policemen. “Malayo pa ‘yun, tumitigil na ‘yung traffic.”

The kids, Manahan, and guests Vic Sotto and Yvonne Salcedo.

Marcos time blues

Despite being affiliated with the Marcos administration, Manahan asserts the creators were able to do the show they wanted. She maintains that the executive producer, Imee, did not have any hand in the program’s content. “I had no contact with Imee; she never attended the meetings.” The only form of government-related control that Kaluskos Musmos went through was the courtesy submission of scripts to then Information Minister and Press Secretary Gregorio Cendaña.

Even at the height of the political turmoil following the assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino in 1983, the makers of Kaluskos Musmos practiced their creative freedom. “We were apolitical,” Manahan underscores. “We had our own sentiments but we never brought them to the workplace. We didn’t feel the need to write anything political. So many other people were writing anti-Marcos.” Neither did Manahan and her co-workers feel pressured to observe self-censorship. “We didn’t have to!” she responds. “We were having fun!”

Ramon Zamora guest-stars displaying his famous German soldier schtick.

Lessons from Johnny

For Belleza, Kaluskos Musmos eased his development from a happy-go-lucky child star into a more mature young man. “It was a charmed life for me… I played around on the set,” he admits. “But one thing Kaluskos Musmos educated us in was how to work behind-the-scenes. For instance, tinuruan kami ni Tito Johnny (Manahan) magmando ng camera.”

That exercise, says Belleza, was put to good use during the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, when reformist groups reclaimed the government TV station Channel 4 and began broadcasting updates following the exit of President Marcos and family to the United States. Belleza and co-star Siegfried Garcia were among the volunteers for the emergency broadcast operations. “Kami ang nag-floor direct—Siegfried and myself. We were there (at Channel 4),” Belleza claims.

Always acting with veterans, Kaluskos was Belleza's first time to act with a bunch of kids.

When Manahan was asked how Kaluskos Musmos ended, she could only manage a vague recollection. “By 1986, wala na kami,” was all she could muster.

In hindsight, Kaluskos Musmos was probably as instructive or enlightening for its viewers as it was for the people involved in the program. More than a few in the cast went on to lead noteworthy careers in and outside showbiz. Maricel is deemed one of the movie queens of her generation. Herbert is a celebrated actor-turned-politician. Urian-nominated actress Maila still has a thriving acting career in television and film. Dranreb, who now prefers to be called Reb, has found his niche as a visual artist. Their accomplishments may also be attributed to the training they received on the Kaluskos Musmos set. Tats proffers, “I guess their exposure on a high-rating show that defined a certain period helped a lot. They were given a lot of elbowroom by Johnny to feel their way through their characters. There was good bonding on the set.”

For Manahan, who now works as an artist and restoration/conservation specialist, the show will always be a cherished part of her career and life. “We were having the best time! It was the best time in TV!” she enthuses. “As far as I am concerned, it was the golden age of Philippine TV.”

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Manahan with Maila Gumila. 

Elizabeth Oropesa. 

Oropesa and Gary Lising. 

Manahan, guest Amy Austria and Lising.     

Manahan, guest Amy Austria and Lising. 

A period skit. 

Gumila plays the dalagang Pilipina. 

Manahan directing the kids. 

Manahan with Lising, Yvonne Salcedo and Vic Sotto. 

Hajji Alejandro guest-stars. 

The kids with Rico J Puno. 

A wartime skit. 

Maricel Soriano plays flight attendant. 

Bert “Tawa” Marcelo.     

Manahan and Chichay with the kids in Japanese costumes. 

In their fake school uniforms. 

Jayboy Samson and Maila Gumila.     

Soriano flanked by two castmembers.     

Just another day on set. 

The girls in their pretend school uniforms. 

Soriano with two smitten co-stars. 

Lising and Reb Belleza. 

Trixia Gomez and Bert Tawa. 

Another wartime skit. 

Manahan directs the kids in Japanese outfits.     

Manahan directs the kids in Japanese outfits. 

Manahan goofing it with the kids, Lising, and guests Sotto and Salcedo.     

With guest Maya Valdes.     

A tribal skit with Chichay. 

With guest Sandy Andolong. 

With guest Sandy Andolong. 

With guest Sandy Andolong.     

With guest Elizabeth Oropesa. 

Another day on the set. 

Taping break. 

Reading lines with Trixia Gomez. 

Manahan blocking the kids. 

Preparing for a take. 

Maricel Soriano hamming it up. 

Vic, Yvonne and Mr. M. 

Manahan with a batya. 

With guest Sandy Andolong. 

With guest Ramon Zamora.     

Line reading with Lita Gutierrez (leftmost). 

Soriano gets caught in immigration. 

Bert “Tawa” Marcelo. 

With Boyet de Leon and Chichay.    

Sharon Manabat. 

Making the flag.    

Maila Gumila. 

Hero Bautista.     

In Filipiniana costume. 

In Filipiniana costume. 

The great Chichay. 

 

All photos from the private collection of Tats Manahan.